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Leading Central MA: American Red Cross Regional CEO Lisa Piehler

Monday, September 23, 2013


Lisa Piehler is the regional chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of Central and Western Massachusetts, a position that she has held since 1993. She is responsible for overseeing a regional area of 1.7 million people in over 200 cities and towns in central and western Massachusetts. I was given a tour of the Red Cross facility and realized I had little idea of the scope of services provided by the organization that she is so passionate about. Piehler is also well known for her leadership in the community and her ongoing volunteer service.

A Conversation with Lisa Piehler

SW: Lets talk first about your career as Regional CEO of the American Red Cross. How long have you been involved with the Red Cross?

LP: I have been with the Red Cross for 20 years.

SW: As regional CEO, what are your responsibilities?

LP: I have to ensure high quality service delivery annually to 1.7 million people in over 200 cities and towns in both central and western Massachusetts. That means working closely with our wonderful board of directors to maintain fiscal stability and do strategic planning that meets the needs of diverse communities. We have 30 staff and 400 volunteers that I have responsibility for managing.

I also oversee our budget, provide effective community, donor and media relations, create and manage successful financial development programs such as annual giving, corporate and foundation funding, major gifts, planned giving and capital campaigns. 91% of every dollar received goes to direct service.

SW: I noticed on the Red Cross Facebook page that you have been providing food, shelter and clothing to a number of house fire victims across Central Ma. What are some other emergency needs in Central MA?

LP: We are a 24/7 organization. When disaster strikes, we go into high gear anywhere in our region. We have had 45 home fires just since July in Central Massachusetts and 256 in the region last year. We also handle tornadoes, flooding and hurricanes. At the site of any disaster, we go right into response and recovery. We immediately address being prepared, as that is when people are most open to it. We work with children to go home and do evacuation plans with their family so they are ready if the unexpected happens.

SW: Do you ever assist on a national or international level?

LP: As an agency, we move out when needed for a national disaster. We have specially trained volunteers who are deployed for 2-3 weeks at a time for disasters. Personally, I am an active leader in regional and national American Red Cross initiatives. Since 2006, I have been on 4 international medical missions including Burma Project Borders in Burma, Forward in Health in Haiti, Cape Cares in Honduras and Surgicorps in Guatemala.

SW: What other programs do you provide other than disaster services?

LP: We provide workforce training for folks who are unemployed or under employed. Our training courses offer career opportunities such as a certified nurses aide, phlebotomy and EKG technician. We are able to help single moms with kids, refugees as well as area residents, who have lost jobs or are changing careers, to be employed and get benefits.

SW: How did your career begin and where?

LP: I took a very circuitous route. My dad was a local pediatrician and my brother followed in his footsteps. I thought I had to be in the medical field also so started in physical therapy and then sports medicine and massage therapy. My love of sports led me to recreation and I went to UMass to get a degree in that field. In 1981, I took a position at Worcester Parks and Recreation as the program and special events coordinator and in1989 took over as director until coming to the Red Cross in 1993.

SW: What is the best thing about your career?

LP: It is so incredibly satisfying to work with people who have the willingness to help others and to provide hope. There is nothing more gratifying than the compassion shown when our army of people descends on a disaster scene. I really get to see the best in people day in and day out including our board, corporators, volunteers and staff. Our region is so strong and so highly performing because of our volunteer workforce and staff. I have learned that a lot of the time people just need to be asked and they will step forward.

It is also about the difference that we make in people’s lives. For the past 19 years, I get a card every December. It is from a family who had a house fire. I went on the call and helped out. Every year that thank you shows up and I wait for it. It just reminds me of how special this organization is.

SW: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Lisa Piehler?

LP: Anything can happen in one of my days. A disaster or a call for help shifts everything. A large part of my day is making sure that we have resources so staff and volunteers can do their job. When I can, I get out in nature whether it is walking, biking, kayaking, cross country skiing or swimming.

SW: What is one thing that you have learned about life because of your career?

LP: I have learned that anything is possible and you can’t do it alone.

SW: What is the something that few people know about you?

LP: Personally, few people know that I am an ordained interfaith minister, which is part of my own spiritual quest. Professionally few people realize how much service the Red Cross provides to our military personnel. We help connect service men and women with their families. We have new programs to help those returning to ease back into life at home. Wherever a branch of the military is based, the Red Cross is there. A second thing few people are aware of is that we are not a government agency, we are funded by the American people.

SW: You are active in the community. What other organizations are you involved with?

LP: I do lots of board work although I am now very selective due to the demands of my job. I am on the board of directors for Bay State Savings Charitable Foundation, United Way of Athol and Worcester Music Chamber Society. I am a Corporator for Bay State Savings Bank and Greater Worcester Community Foundation and on the Supervisory Committee of Millbury Federal Credit Union. I also belong to Toastmasters International, Early Risers Club and the Worcester Rotary International Club.

SW: How can the Central MA. community make a difference for the Red Cross?

LP: We only ask for three things...time, money and blood. We make it very easy.

“There is nothing so powerful as a new idea in the hands of a first class entrepreneur.” With more than 25 years of leadership experience, Susan Wagner has been known for driving events, initiatives, launches, and openings through her company SusanWagner PR. In this challenging economy, she has begun a new division to offer affordable start-up packages to new and emerging small businesses and non-profit organizations that include professional writing services, websites, collateral, marketing, social media grassroots outreach and regional PR campaigns.


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